What He Doesn’t Know

When it comes to a woman’s past, is don’t ask, don’t tell really the best policy? I ask this because it seems to be the most favored. Some women think that if they don’t tell their partners about their previous affairs, they can avoid the toxic jealousy and emotional fallout that will result when their loved ones learn of the long list of suitors who called before them.

This reminds me of an old friend who for some reason took me as a confidant and liked to inform me of all of her sordid affairs. Like her fling with that Colombian drug dealer Pablo. Don’t ask me how they met but they did and after that, it was just Pablo, Pablo, Pablo. That’s all I heard about. There was so much Pablo that I started to worry about her. “Why do you keep hanging out with that Pablo guy?” I asked her. “Are you jealous?” she replied. “No, I just thought that drug dealers didn’t make the best boyfriends.” “Oh, Pablo’s not my boyfriend!” she protested. “Sometimes a girl just needs it, okay?”

That settled everything.

Years later, I still remember Pablo. The woman is now quite respectable, a steady job, a two-door garage, some offspring and an adoring husband. That guy doesn’t know about Pablo, and I will never tell him because I know that he just couldn’t handle the fact that his beautiful wife, the one who brought so much joy to his life, had once shared her bed with some drug dealer, a man who she didn’t even care about but only saw because she liked the sex. “Whatever you do, don’t ever mention any of my ex-boyfriends, especially Pablo,” she once whispered to me. “My husband would lose his mind!”

He no doubt would because he loves his wife so much and he doesn’t want to tarnish his glowing image of her. So I have never told him, but at the same time, I feel a bit like a liar. Why can’t she just be honest with her husband? Why do I have to tiptoe around and protect her husband from her own past?

I wish this anecdote was just one scene from one particular marriage, but the reality is that there tends to be a “Pablo” (if not several) in just about every woman’s life portfolio. In private, they’ll tell you they have no regrets about it. “Everyone has to get out and spread their seed, you know,” an acquaintance told me recently. She recounted to me her affair with an older businessman at the World Bank, who took her as a lover when she was still in her teens. “Does your husband know about him?” I asked. “Oh him?” she said, as if her soul mate were almost a stranger. “God no! I could never tell him about that!”

And there it was again. This woman was willing to tell any random stranger about her sexual exploits, but not her own husband. Better to keep him in the dark than frighten him with the truth, she most likely thought. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him!

Except that it will, because one can only keep the truth buried in the cellar for so long before it starts to stink! And so, sooner or later, you and your husband will be drinking coffee at an airport when the Pablo of yore turns around with a grande latte in his hand and says, “Oh, baby, it’s you! I haven’t seen you in ages!” And then there will be kisses on the cheek and awkward body language, nervous laughter and light sweats and a lot of thinking because when your husband asks, “Who was that guy? Where do you know him from?” after Pablo leaves with his latte, you better come up with a good, believable answer.

Or you could just tell the truth.

Anyway, it interests me what makes us men so squeamish about these things. Do we still hold dear these pure 19th century romantic images of virtuous womanhood? And how can these old-fashioned ideals do us any good if our own wives can’t tell us the truth about their pasts?

The reasons for these ideas stretch deep into the abyss of human psychology. But one reason I have come up with, is that we men are uncomfortable with our own pasts and, especially, with the rotten bastards we used to be. Do I regret who I used to be?  Sometimes I do. But I wouldn’t ever change it, because it was part of my journey in life.

And so, if I see the proverbial Pablo at the airport cafe, I won’t feel threatened, no, I’ll shake his hand, give him a pat on the back, maybe even a kiss on each cheek. I’ll take him as a brother, because, I know with great certainty, that he’s got a woman back home who has some “Pablos” of her very own.

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